Greetings. This morning, as I passed by ten or eleven Starbucks on the way to a meeting, I tried to imagine what made the neighborhood coffeehouses of earlier times such special places. No doubt the coffee had a lot to do with it, but one can only imagine that the first coffeehouse on record–opened in the late 15th century in the great city of Constantinople (now Istanbul)–was a place where people hung out to socialize, do business, and discuss the issues of the day. And given that the original Turkish coffee was just as strong as it is today, you probably wanted to be sitting down when you drank you first, second, and third cups. No double decaf skimmed mocha grande lattes for residents and visitors in this remarkable city.
Over time the innovation of coffeehouses began to spread all across Europe, first in England and then to the big cities and small villages of Italy, France, Germany, and elsewhere. By the late 1600's there were several hundred in London alone. And, like the pubs around the corner, they served as a perfect place for neighbors and local businesspeople to gather, catch up, play games, and make deals. In fact, a coffee shop opened in 1668 by a gentleman named Edward Lloyd must have been a fantastic setting for doing business as it would eventually turn into the Lloyd's of London insurance company.
Now try to imagine (or try to remember if you were around then) the early days of Starbucks and what made it such a remarkable place. Folks who, for the second time in the history of coffeehouses, figured out how to bring this remarkable idea to scale. And then try to imagine how the company's newest product, Via instant coffee, fits into their evolving business model and brand. An instant coffee that purports to taste as good as their fresh brewed coffee and can be taken anywhere. The perfect extension to a brand that now seems to be more about grabbing a cup of joe on the run than experiencing the magic of a coffeehouse.
Amid all of the marketing and buzz being created for this new product, it strikes me that Starbuck's strategy is simply to sell as much coffee as possible in any form. And that includes instant coffee. Not about creating an experience that really matters with a cup of coffee at the center of it. Now you create your own experience, but just make sure to carry along a cup or a packet of our coffee.
We win in business by giving those we serve an experience that really matters. As we become a much smaller part of that experience we risk becoming less valuable or even irrelevant. And we should never forget that the experience is what creates the real buzz and not the caffeine.